Tri Challenge: Yesterday is history
January 9th, 2012
02:23 PM ET

Tri Challenge: Yesterday is history

Every day this week, CNN will introduce you to one member of the 2012 Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge team. Today, meet Rick Morris, a web developer and volunteer firefighter who hopes to kick his smoking habit and improve his odds for living a long life.

It was the week before Christmas when I got a call from the CNN Fit Nation team. I happened to be finishing up a vehicle fire call with my department when it came in. After a 10 or 15 minute interview, I felt I would be hearing from them again.

A few days later, CNN Medical news producer Matt Sloane asked if I would meet with him on Skype to go over a few things. I agreed and we connected the next day - December 22, 2011.

After a few words, Matt moved aside and Dr. Sanjay Gupta came onto the screen telling me I was selected to participate in the upcoming 2012 Malibu Triathlon. They caught me off guard and I was at a loss for words, but it is a day I'll never forget.

In February, I'll turn 44.  Realizing that I'm not a 20-something anymore, and noticing moderate changes in my health, I knew it was about time I started paying closer attention to my medical future - especially my heart.  Like many Americans, I live a relaxed lifestyle. And what is clear to me is extended relaxation leads to all kinds of problems, medically speaking. This is one of the reasons why I submitted my entry for the triathlon.

Really, there are three concerns that motivated me...

First, I want to live well into my 80s or 90s. Heck, I wouldn't even mind being a centenarian! But the way I'm treating my body, I previously doubted I would make it into my 60s.

Second, there are so many negatives bombarding Americans nowadays that encourage us to live and feel crappy. We have been programmed to live a convenient lifestyle. For example, drive-through windows are everywhere –- from the bank to fast-food restaurants... even convenience stores have them!

Food comes so far from the garden that by the time we nuke it in the microwave, we get little nutritional value.  We super-size our food.  We have a remote control for everything.  And, there is a gimmick to make life “simple” or “easy” with a myriad of products. We sit in our car and eat in our car. Tasty, yet unhealthy food is everywhere:  In vending machines, retail shopping centers and the bedroom fridge.  We even ride powered scooters when shopping for food.

The bottom line for me is that much of what ails us today is our own fault, including smokers like me.  So, I aim to change my way of thinking and living, get off my rump and get to work preparing my body for its later years.

Perhaps the most drastic reason I submitted my entry to Dr. Sanjay Gupta is I want to kick the cancer stick. Yeah, I smoke and, yeah, I love it when I smoke. But I realize the serious health complications of smoking.

My father died at 63 from lung cancer, following 50 years of smoking.  A brother-in-law followed a few years later from the same cause. My grandfather died at 52 from a heart attack. My brother had throat cancer and passed at 39.  My grandmother was diabetic (albeit she lived well into her 80s) but she also died after a heart attack.

So I have to say that my family dynamic concerns me - gotta do something about that if I don't want to join the statistics.

If you ever smoked, you'll know the immediate problems of doing this triathlon.  Less air, higher blood pressure, stinky clothes, inability to run more than a few hundred yards or climb a set of stairs without becoming winded. And then there's the risk of a heart attack. Other than the initial pleasure gained, smoking does nothing positive and only makes you feel badly.

One of the things I enjoy most in my life is my participation with my local volunteer fire department, Center Pigeon Fire and Rescue in Canton, North Carolina. Nothing is more rewarding than helping rescue men, women, and children from entangled car wrecks, or helping at a fire scene.

But, I've learned that to be a firefighter, you can't be a smoker. We wear airpacks and work with heavy equipment. As a smoker, I wear out quickly. I also know that the number one killer of firefighters is heart attacks.

As a member of my fire department, I have always tried to be a contributor. By my contribution is limited by my poor health habits.  I'm concerned that I could endanger one of my fellow firefighters while doing an interior attack. What if something goes wrong and I don't have the energy to assist a downed firefighter? What if I run out of energy before my colleagues and cause them to have to come to my aid?

Perhaps I'm over-reacting. But I volunteer with dedicated, true professionals. I refuse to let them down.

NFL great Mike Ditka said it best: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today's a gift.” I plan to take advantage of today in preparing myself for many tomorrows, trying to eliminate any health-related mystery.

With that, I say thanks to the entire CNN Fit Nation team for selecting me in this humbling endeavor. I realize I'm fortunate to have been selected and understand this is going to be a very challenging and rewarding journey. I can't wait to meet my six teammates, trainers and the CNN crew who are busy behind-the-scenes making this happen.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. drew

    Hey, are there any new York city police or fireman that are collecting disability being featured in the article ...?

    January 9, 2012 at 18:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. ninalovel

    Rick, congratulations on being selected by CNN–your life is about to change in ways you have never imagined (all good!) Although I quit smoking over 20 years ago, I did smoke for 20 years, about a pack a day. And look at me-I trained up and conquered the NYC Triathlon in August, and I'm a LOT older than you, haha! You CAN and WILL do it, and it will be fun, too! See you in Atlanta (I live nearby so will drop by on kick-off weekend).

    January 11, 2012 at 21:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rick Morris

      Thanks Nina. I look forward to meeting you in Atlanta.

      January 13, 2012 at 14:19 | Report abuse |
  3. AlwaysTri

    I'm sure that CNN will give you all of your equipment, but places like Under Armour give discounts to firefighters! I learned this during my days in the fire department. Just something to keep in mind 🙂 Good luck, and way to represent!

    January 12, 2012 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Alyce

    Rick the best way I have ever found to quitis with laser treatment. It has worked great for me...twice. the first time lasted 10 years, and by day 3, I could not force my mind to remember how it felt to smoke, not the taste...nothing! I didn't gain any weight, no food cravings, no mood swings...nothing. It was awesome! Then after 10 years, I made the mistake of thinking that I could "just have one". Well we all know how that works. The second time was pretty much the same as the first, walk out of the office with no desires,,mood swings etc. However 3 severe family crisis ended that at the 3 month mark....I just said screw it and lit up.
    The trick to laser therapy is getting boosters relatively soon after the initial treatment. The treatments usually include 2 or 3 boosters....as long as you havent relapsed(they messure our oxygen level in your blood). I would recommend the first booster at about day 3 or 4, and the second one at around the 2 week mark.
    It is painless, but it is costly, around $500 in Canada.
    If you decide to try it, I would be interested to hear how it works for you.

    January 31, 2012 at 19:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jeremy Williams

    Rick, Congrats That's awesome that you are going to take on this challenge. You'll be a great role model for other smokers out there. I'd like to offer you a free http://quitjuice.com account. Hit me up jeremy at quitjuice dot com and I'll get you set up. Go for the gold!

    January 31, 2012 at 20:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Dave

    Rick – easiest way to quit – deeply think about your smoking currently – identify the cigarettes that are Habitual (ie: phone rings – lite up, after eating lite up) – these are Habitual cigarettes – now identify which cigarettes are Addictive (ie: 1st cigarette in the morning, need cigarette 3 hours later – here is the success – slowly eliminate the Habitual cigarettes over say 1 month – you will find this will eliminate the majority of your cigarettes – now your left to deal with the last Addictive ones – one by one eliminate them over the next month – this has helped many people quit – this is how I helped my wife quit – its totally logical – elimnate the Habitual first, 2nd eliminate the addictive – analysis of this reveals your not too addictive, smoking is mostly Habitual
    good luck – hope this helps

    January 31, 2012 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. shalome

    Rick, congratulations. I wish I was selected along with you. I also have tried everything, shy of going into a rehab. I am at my wits end. I will root for you!!!!!!!!!!!

    February 1, 2012 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Victoria

    Rick do you love LIFE??? You do want to live a long life don't you? Do you want to smell like a ash tray? Your a handsome guy, don't destroy your insides by smoking. Wake Up!! A cigarette is a light on one end and a FOOL on
    the other end!!

    February 1, 2012 at 15:14 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.